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Simple Dance Ideas using the Visual Arts

Mia Hollingworth, an Australian teacher and performance artist and guest writer for DTI, gives teachers some simple ideas for combining visual arts with dance.  Use these lesson ideas as icebreakers or as a way to show children the connections between dance and visual art.

create a movement

Creating Movement Signatures: A  Dance Improvisation and Visual Art Lesson

By Mia Hollingworth

The process of learning who we are is inseparable from our physical selves. As we absorb and process our experiences, we form patterns that are neural, behavioural, muscular, and cellular.

Understanding this helps us to see that each individual possesses their own unique movement signature. This is evident when asked to do the same simple movement, no two people perform it exactly the same way.

In this article, we will explore this idea with an ice-breaker activity where we will create our own unique movement signatures. This activity gets the brain as well as the body lubricated as we test our working memory by trying to recall and recognise the unique movement signatures of others.

This is a fun activity for participants young and old, who have come together for the first time or who are an established group of younger learners.

Dance and Visual Arts Lesson Ideas

  1. Create a Movement Signature

Ask learners to stand in a circle arranged in first name alphabetical order.

If the group already know each other and are older, challenge them by doing it in silence.

Students will create a stationary movement signature that matches the sound, length and rhythm of their name.

Starting at A, students will show and share their name and movement signature, then everyone else in the group will follow by repeating the name and performing the movement.

This activity moves around the circle in a clockwise direction until all participants have shared. You could go around a second time asking the mover to clarify any detail about their body in space.  Tell learners they need to pay close attention because they will be asked to remember and re-call these movement signatures at random later in the lesson.

Note: It’s worth pointing out to your group which moves are banned from the activity.  I have had groups of learners perform a dance craze of the moment. Remind them this is their own unique creation and may very well start a new craze!

Choreography in Primary School Dance

  1. Creating Movement Memory Game

Learners will spread out around the room and the teacher will call out random names. Learners will perform the associated movement signature that matches the name.

If the majority of the participants can’t re-call the move ask the owner of the name to perform their movement signature again.

Note: Young students seem to forget or change their mind from their original offering so it might be worth pointing out that they need to remember their own signature and stick with their first choice.

Extension Activity

You may document these and do this activity again at a later date to see how the students movement signatures change after further dance experiences and having explored more complexed movement patterns.

Now it’s time to take this idea and run with it!

Make it into a locomotor travelling exercise.

From the back of the room ask learners to turn their original movement into one that travels and repeats.

It doesn’t have to be running, however be sure to stress that they need to keep the essence of the original signatures rhythm, timing/duration and be recognisable.

Students will follow the leader down the room.

Classroom Management

Young people love to move their bodies and shake out the sillies especially after a period of intense sedentary focus.

By letting learners know that you will call out a random name throughout the duration of class and everyone has to stop what they are doing immediately and dance the signature movement on the spot is a great strategy to getting the groups attention or as a little brain break exercise.


  1. Dance, Stop, Drop and Draw 

Resources: You will need large sheets of butchers paper some black sharpies, bright coloured crayons / pencils and music you love to move to.

The following lesson is inspired by my love of Visual Art and a reminder that we can find inspiration to make movement in anything that captivates our attention.

dance and the visual arts

Jean Miro was a Spanish born artist who also designed sets and costumes for Diaghilev Ballet Russe. His work is characterised by brightly coloured swirling abstract floating body parts.

This lesson uses improvisation as a way to generate free and unique movement.

Each improvisation will explore a type of movement quality, see examples below.

You may want to do a quick whole class revision on shapes / angles so learners understand what they will be exploring and responding to.

Movement Quality

  1. Circular movements
  2. Angular movements
  3. Straight line movements

 Questions to Engage your Dance Learner

Show me a round shape – With what body parts can you make this shape?

Show me an angular shape – With what body parts can you make this shape?

Show me a straight-line shape – With what body parts can you make this shape?

Each Improvisation task can take anywhere from 1-3 minutes depending on the age group.

After each improvisation, ask learners to FREEZE in a shape of the movement quality being explored. This shape will be replicated horizontally on the butcher’s paper and a partner or the facilitator will trace the outline of the bodily shape onto the paper with a black sharpie.

Repeat this task 3 times tracing around the body shape each time layering over the top of the other.

simple dance ideasVisual Art Task

With your crayons / pencils, colour in the random closed shapes you have made with different colours. You can reference and even show students Joan Miró paintings for a guide and inspiration. At the end of this Improvisation and Visual Art activity you will have a full-scale colourful piece of art to display on your gallery wall.

Extension Activity

For an extension, you can get as creative as you like by adding other elements to the Visual Art works. For example; for the older learners ask if they can find the location of where the heart resides in the body on the butcher’s paper and draw the organ onto the body shapes.

And finally…

I hope I have helped spark your own creative ideas of finding ways to explore the moving body and their unique patterns.  I propose that, our bodies don’t just exist to move for us but rather, movement is the stuff out of which our bodies are made.

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